Running Away From Home: The National Mall (Washington D.C.)

Running Away from Home is a series of posts where the Reluctant Runner recounts and recommends an exceptional run location he’s experienced while traveling. In most cases, these locales are already popular running spots that have probably been written about dozens of times. But for some reason he’s decided to blog about them anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending roughly 19 hours in Washington D.C. Of course, this is hardly enough time to get lost in the city’s maze of awkwardly planned streets, let alone fully explore our nation’s capital. However, I did have some time on the lone morning of my visit to run through the National Mall.

A few years back, my wife spent some time in D.C. for work and couldn’t use enough superlatives to describe an early morning run she had at the National Mall. She jogged effortlessly as the bright sun rose, bathing the monuments in an otherworldly color, the likes of which she’d never seen before. She had the entire park to herself, as the Mall at dawn was as empty as the promises made by the politicians who work in this metropolis.

Or something like that.

My route... in map form!
My route… in map form!

Hit the road just before 7am, warming up with a brisk walk to the White House. I picked up the pace from there and jogged toward the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, the overcast skies and time of year prevented me from seeing the sunrise and, since it was Saturday, I certainly didn’t have the Mall to myself. There were bunches of other runners making their way through the park. I enjoyed seeing them because it’s comforting to know I’m not the only person stupid enough to ruin a weekend morning with exercise.

From there, I made my way west, running along the Reflecting Pool and tackling the steps of the Lincoln Memorial full speed. (Not as iconic as the ‘Rocky Steps’ in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but still pretty damn good.)

A quiet morning at the Reflecting Pool.
A quiet morning at the Reflecting Pool.

After a quick break to snap pictures and enjoy a quiet moment with Honest Abe, I used the Tidal Basin path to guide me past the MLK, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials. Next up was the eastern side of the Mall, where I ran by copious numbers of museums and Smithsonian buildings. Unfortunately, this part of the Mall is currently being renovated, so much of the green space was dug up and I found myself surrounded by a lot of dirt and idle construction equipment. And as anyone who regularly watches the news knows, the Capitol Dome is covered in scaffolding, providing our proud nation the greatest possible metaphor for our do-nothing Congress.

Because of the mess, I opted for a shorter run, rather than heading all the way to the Capitol. Even with this earlier end, I chalked up about 5 miles, which turned out to be, by far, the longest run on my glutinous vacation.

The current state of Capitol.
The current state of Capitol.

Running the National Mall is obviously great; the iconic buildings and monuments, the lush green space, the pleasure of knowing that spies regularly exchange information on nearby benches (if the movies are to be believed). But I don’t think I fully realized how much ground there was to cover. The Mall is HUGE. You could run day after day through there and not get bored with it. There are so many streets and paths that you could choose a different route each day and still get from point A to point B. You could also add some mileage along the Potomac or take the bridge over to Theodore Roosevelt Island if you’re feeling up to it.

There’s really no place quite like it.

If you’re a runner headed to Washington D.C. in the near future, I’m sure you’re already planning to run the National Mall. It’s a no brainer. I’m simply here to stoke the flames of your excitement and confirm that it’s time well spent.

Or something like that.

 

 

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